On page 191 of Tom Phillips’ A Humument, Phillips suggests that there is opportunity for growth in any environment through the question he presents on the page and the one treelike image that Philips creates. The object of focus can be viewed in different manners, each revealing different messages that Phillips suggests about growth.
Immediately, the viewer should notice how much of the page is a shade of purple. The peculiar shape on the top half of the page catches the viewer’s attention as it is unlike the other geometric shapes and people are naturally dependent on the left side of the brain, causing one to look for words. The words are covered by crosshatching of different violets and maroons, forming puzzle like shapes, all touching one another, yet, not overlapping. Not only do the purples create interest, but the aged yellow and white parts do as well. The white in particular creates a halo effect which gives the object an outline, allowing the viewer to associate it with simple symbols such as clouds and bushes. The outline does not take away from the image in anyway as the concentration of crosshatching and the differences in color create depth on a normally flat picture through value. Within this image is the question, “Can it be in my Barren garden that you flower?” being the only words in the image not drawn over and legible.
The viewer should then follow the shape of the first figure down into the vertical lines which resemble tree trunks. The large rectangle the trunks led to is a light indigo, with marks of darker indigo concentrated near the top of the shape. Together, the entire image resembles three trees in a purple soil, possibly a reference to the barren garden that Phillips mentions.
In modern culture, purple, when associated with nature, suggests contamination and a sense of degeneration, especially in things not normally purple. It seems as if the entire scene is polluted, that nothing is able to grow. However, the autumn yellow leaves suggest otherwise. They imply that the purple trees, although unnatural and strange, are still able to go through seasonal stages as normal trees would. One can also interpret the yellow leaves as yellow flowers. Flowers are known to be delicate and fragile. If flowers are able to grow in such a desolate environment, it can be assumed that anything is able to develop, regardless of where it may be.
The crosshatching is more than just artistic preference and creation of depth. It is done in rigid lines but it gives a completely different feeling, one that flows. The lines contribute to the overall image by giving an unrestricted feel to it through the untouched space within the shapes as well as the overflowing of crosshatching in the bottom left corner of the trees’ top. Corresponding shapes appear to differ slightly from one another but they are drawn with the same color inks. The concentration of the crosshatching is what creates the illusion of differing shades which in turn causes one to visualize a variety of feelings. The same dark maroon that smothers words and creates a sense of the abyss is the same maroon that is applied in fewer marks, making the tree seem basked in light, giving a feeling of tranquility and life in the plethora of color.
Phillip’s question may be the centerpiece of this piece of art, the words that are covered but still legible are of interest as well. In the turnip purple portions of the tree, wistful, flowing words and actions such as harmony, dodge, and speak. In the twilight purple portions, the words life, dreaming, night, and murmur are clear. These words are associated through sleep and dreams. The distribution of color is rather simple; the colors alternate accordingly according to adjacent shapes. Knowing this, one can interpret the image in a completely different manner. The alternation of colors represents the alternation of day and night, of clear actions and ideas and surreal ones. In this manner, one can interpret the tree as a large cloud or a thought bubble. The hidden words can represent subconscious thoughts and the clearer words represent things more commonly thought of.
One can also view Phillips’ question as an attack toward society. The trees-in-the-garden image is remarkably similar to a mushroom shaped smog caused by an explosion. The purple explosion is so great that the land is lit up by it. The same words that represent dreams and ideals are now being engulfed. Can it be that humans can only flourish through the destruction of nature? In this scene, the barren garden is referring to land devoid of life. Phillips may be suggesting that humans are only satisfied after knowing that nothing else exists. If interpreted in this way, Phillips reveals a sad truth behind modern human progress.
No matter how one may view this page, Phillips invokes thoughts of flowering, of growth. Growth is never-ending as are the thoughts surrounding it. Although there may be darkness in growth, there is also hope within it as well.